DUBLIN – Rugby will use mouthguard technology as part of its efforts to detect brain injuries suffered by players on the field.
The smart technology, which measures the force of head impacts in real time, will send alerts to an independent matchday doctor to signal “a high level of acceleration which could lead to an injury,” global governing body World Rugby said Monday.
Players who might not have shown symptoms can then be taken off the field and checked out as part of the Head Injury Assessment (HIA) process.
World Rugby said it is investing 2 million euros ($2.1 million) in the technology to support unions, competitions and clubs. It will be used for the first time in the inaugural edition of the WXV — the global women's competition — this month and integrated into the HIA from January.
Elite rugby players will be required to wear the mouthguards in training as well as matches. World Rugby said that would enable coaches “to better tailor drills, tackle skills and training load for each individual player, and best support their performance and welfare.”
“The latest scientific research and expert opinion is telling us one thing — reduce the forces players experience on their heads at all levels of the game. That is exactly what we’re doing," said Eanna Falvey, World Rugby chief medical officer.
“The advances in smart mouthguard technology mean elite players will be better cared for than ever before. We are taking smart mouthguards out of the realm of medical research and putting them into the world of everyday performance management to continue to manage player welfare in the best way possible.”
World Rugby said its independent Concussion Working Group is recommending all players at all levels wear a mouthguard, pointing to research in ice hockey that found it protects against dental injuries and reduces the risk of a concussion by 20%. In community rugby, players should not return to play after a diagnosed brain injury for 21 days.
There are increasing concerns about the health of rugby players, from the elite level to the grassroots, because of the effect repeated knocks to the head can have on the brain.
The Rugby World Cup is taking place against the backdrop of a lawsuit filed by former international rugby players against governing bodies, including World Rugby, contending rugby authorities failed to take reasonable action to protect the players from repeated blows to the head during their careers.
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